Destinations

Taste of the tropics

At Cairns airport I am bathed in brilliant sunshine and warmth. It’s my first visit to Queensland’s north and as a busy working mother, four days on my own is a dream so I’m determined to soak up every second. Settling in at the Hilton, I find myself gazing at the boats on Trinity Inlet marina, and the vast expanse of the Coral Sea. I lunch at Hanuman – a Jimmy Shu restaurant (Choo is shoes, Shu is food). It’s a mix of Thai, Indian and Nonya (Chinese-Indonesian) cuisine and so  delicious that I completely forget myself, eating way more than I should.

I take a walk around Cairns’ and town centre and waterfront. It’s more of a mangrove shoreline than a beach, though there’s a lovely man-made lagoon for swimming, complete with sandy shore. I decide to seek out Rusty’s Produce Market, a Cairns institution. Here, an enormous array of produce and craft can be found, Friday to Sunday each week. Stall after stall groans with the weight of enormous melons and sky-high piles of pineapples, oranges and bananas.

Being in the tropics, I expect only tropical food, but soon realise that almost everything grows well here. The farmers in the nearby Tablelands boast that you can make an entire cup of tea or coffee from their local produce – dairy cows graze near sugar cane crops, while huge areas of tea plants and coffee beans grow nearby.

Dinner is at oliver’s, an elegant French-Australian restaurant right in the heart of Cairns. The rice-bubble coated prawns are a real standout! Day two of my tropical escape starts with a quick walk down to the Cairns Pier and the Farmgate Markets. I try fresh tamarind from the pod, chocolate pudding fruit (which tastes exactly like its name suggests) and a wide range of chutneys, jams and nuts.

Lunch at Dundee’s on the inlet challenges my palate, with crocodile (mild but firm), kangaroo (like venison) and barramundi. These are followed by tasty calamari and enormous prawns. Satisfied, I drive down the coast to the elegant Sea Temple, Port Douglas. I have a penthouse suite with my own rooftop playground – the spa pool, sun loungers and barbecue feel a little superfluous this time, but I imagine coming back with my husband and children.

At on the Inlet’s happy hour, I enjoy a bucket of prawns and a cold glass of sauvignon blanc, waiting for George the 300kg groper to come for his 5pm feed. However when he turns up he ignores his dinner and, looking at the size of him, I figure that’s no bad thing!

The next morning, I’m off to Port Douglas to visit the Sunday markets. I purchase a wooden bird-whistle for my son and a pineapple juice for myself. The fruit to look for are oareeba pineapples – they have amazing sweetness without acidity.

Next I head to Palm Cove, a lovely village with a pretty white-sand beach. It’s the home of the celebrated restaurant Nu Nu. Sure enough, the food is sublime and my only complaint is that I haven’t time to return for more scrumptious meals!

Day three presents more picture perfect weather and I head uphill to the Tablelands for a tropical food tour. I drink tea at Nerada tea, eat cheese at Gallo Dairy, sip mulberry liqueur at ot Uncle, mango wine at Golden Drop and coffee at both Skybury and Coffee Works.

Day four and my escape is over. I’ve missed my family and I find myself standing on the beach at Palm Cove, watching the sunrise and promising myself that we’ll all come to this beautiful part of the world next time!

GET THERE

Cairns is just over five hours’ direct flight from Auckland.

BEST TIoE To Go oay to october, when the weather is warm and generally dry is best. November to April is the wet season and many beaches close due to jellyfish.

WHERE To STAYHilton Cairns www.cairns.hilton.comSea Temple Resort and Spa www.seatempleportdouglas.com.au

WHERE To EATHanuman www.hanuman.com.auoliver’s www.olivers.net.auDundee’s www.dundees.com.auNu Nu www.nunu.com.auon The Inlet  www.portdouglasseafood.com

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